________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 15 . . . . March 29, 2002

cover Seeing Stars.

Gary Barwin.
Toronto, ON: Stoddart Kids, 2001.
183 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 0-7737-6227-2.

Subject Headings:
Parent and child-Juvenile fiction.
Secrecy-Juvenile fiction.
Quests (Expeditions)-Juvenile fiction.
Saxophone-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Sheila Alexander.

*** /4


I could see why people would want to phone my mother. If I weren't her son I might phone her. I'd wait till it was dark and the stars were out. I'd dial the sparkly number for "Starbright" and ask where my father was. It'd be great to hear her soft reassuring voice. To feel her quiet certainty. I'd ask if the stars could tell why my father left. And I'd ask her to tell me what she wasn't telling.

Seeing Stars is a fast-paced, dizzying trip into bizarre circumstances which drift between realism and fantasy. Alex Isaacson, a 15-year-old living in a city in Ontario, has many of the usual concerns of adolescence: attending school, avoiding teasing, and worrying about his upcoming band duet with an attractive girl, Annie. His out-of-school time is less normal as he cares for his bedridden mother and the household needs and searches the Internet for traces of his missing father. His mother, Marcia, is a psychic known to the public as "Starbright, the star reader," who provides answers and advice by telephone to all inquirers except her son. Twelve years ago, at the same time as Marcia's husband disappeared in mysterious circumstances about which she refuses to speak, she took to her bed permanently. Obsessed with finding his father and unraveling the history of his family, Alex checks his E-mail repeatedly but unsuccessfully for responses to his inquiries. His eccentric Uncle Barnard is no help either, fending off Alex's questions with ramblings about frogs. After a run-in with bullies, Alex spontaneously joins Chuck Ambersoll, a pilot, inventor, and crash investigator, on a cross-country flight to interview a man involved in a plane crash twelve years earlier. Alex and Chuck soon find themselves threatened, their plane damaged, and their return home delayed. Meanwhile, Alex struggles to make sense of a series of bizarre E-mails from "The Bouncing Man." Suddenly, the crucial pieces fall into place with Uncle Barnard's crazed revelations. Alex meets his father and discovers the shocking reason behind his parents' retreat from the world: in various ways, they are responsible for the death of Alex's forgotten sister in the crash of their homemade "frog plane" which she was piloting at the age of ten. After a traumatic showdown with his mother, Alex faces a happier future as Marcia starts to heal and his friendship with Annie intensifies.

     The author weaves an amusing web of connections among quirky characters and events. Both blatant and subtle clues to the family mystery are sprinkled liberally throughout the story. Although the unfolding plot is related in the first person, exploration of Alex's thoughts and emotions are only superficial. The story is written in an unusual style, with short, choppy paragraphs and with chapters titled with ironic or double meanings.

     The major strength of this writing lies in its imaginative plot. The story will appeal to readers aged eleven to fourteen who enjoy whimsical flights of fancy which are grounded in the perspective of a teenager, albeit one with an unusual lifestyle. In particular, some reluctant and struggling readers may remain attentive, given the off-beat story line which is related in simple, current language.


Sheila Alexander is a Middle Years teacher candidate in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364